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'Americanized' Italian shuttle machines seek U.S. niche.

Flexible, modular shuttle-mold blow molding machines from Graham Engineering Corp., York, Pa., under the trade name of Techne North America, were exhibited for the first time at NPE in June (see PT, May '91, p. 91). Based on designs licensed from Technipack Engineering Italia in Bologna, Italy, which uses Techne as a trade name, the new North American Techne models are to be built in York with mostly U.S.-sourced parts. The only parts brought in from Italy are heads, some mechanical parts and cast-iron C-clamps, Techne says.

Techne officials say extruder drive motor, hydraulics, electricals, and controls are all U.S.-sourced under local warranty, which should answer a lot of the complaints of owners of earlier Italian-built imported machines. Early reactions at NPE indicate they may be right.

These flexible, single-station extrusion blow molders, designed for moderate outputs, accept industry-standard tooling. Graham makes three models at present: 5000 for up to 5-liter containers; 5000S for up to 6 liters with high versatility; and 15000 for up to 15 liters with multicavity options.

Techne also offers a 1-liter model 1000, a long-stroke 15000-3, a customized 15000 A/T for technical parts, and a 30-liter model 30000. These have been Americanized, but are still imported from Italy.

The U.S.-made model 5000 has a 9-ton clamp and 2.2-sec dry cycle. Model 5000S clamps with 10 tons and has 1.8-sec dry cycle. The 15000 has 18 tons and 2.4-sec dry cycle. Prices start at $200,000 for the 5000; $250,000 for 5000S and $340,000 for 15000. Techne sells its machines through agents in North America.

A FRESH START

Some processors may have noted that this was actually the third NPE appearance for Techne-brand machines. An earlier generation was first shown at NPE '85 by a distributor called Technipack Corp., an affiliate of Graham Engineering that was located at Graham's facility there. Subsequently, Improved Plastics Machinery, Hudson, N.H., took over the Techne line for a year and a half and exhibited a machine at NPE '88.

Techne now licenses Graham Engineering to build and distribute its machines. Techne in Italy, which was founded in 1985 by the machine's designer Moreno Minghetti, is "50% owned by the Graham Companies and 50% by management," says Graham's chief operating officer Jean Rubie.

COMPETING NOT ON

PRICE ALONE

The new U.S. Technes intend to compete head-on with Uniloy blow-molding machines from Johnson Controls and German imports from Bekum Plastics Machinery, Krupp Kautex, and Battenfeld Fischer, says Techne's U.S. sales manager Tim Blucher. And they'll compete not just on price this time around, says Graham v.p. of sales and marketing Francis (Sandy) White. Techne machines are "comparable in many respects" to competing brands, White says, but have the advantage of all domestic-supplied electronic controls, including Moog parison programmers and Barber-Colman MACO 8000 systems. Other features include soundproofed doors, a troubleshooting system built into the controls, extruder cold-start protection, and closed-loop hydraulic shuttle motion driven by a linear transducer. Bottles are trimmed in the machine and discharged from the front, saving floor space.

Machines can be converted for three-layer coextrusion, window stripping, in-mold labeling, and one to four cavities. Multicavity heads have variable die distance to fit existing molds. A built-in crane allows one operator to make tool changes in 1 to 4 hr, depending on complexity, Techne says. And Graham's QMC system, displayed at NPE, is an option. Techne's in-mold labeling mechanism, based on a Graham patent, "has the shortest cycle time available--0.8 sec/label vs. 1.6 sec for the next closest competitor," says Graham's White.

CORRECTING OLD PROBLEMS

PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY talked with owners of nearly all of the 20 or so older imported Techne machines in North America. Although owners agreed that the machines made good bottles when they were working, owners complained of a range of repeated malfunctions and maintenance problems--including burned out screw and pump motors, broken shafts, and a persistent software glitch that every so often caused the carriage to lurch forward and smash the blow pins. U.S. experience with older Technes is pretty well summed up by Terry Weir, production manager at So-White Chemical in Plover, Wis., which has an NPE '85 demo model. "It's a maintenance nightmare. If anything goes wrong, the directions are in Italian, the parts are in Italy. When you get it going it will do a good job; but even now if we get eight hours out of it without breaking down, that's unusual."

Owners have generally dealt with these problems by rebuilding the machines on their own with American components. Techne's Blucher says the software problem has not been solved, and that Techne is installing new electronic microchips in the older machines.

There have also been some problems with the head design. Francois Minville, general manager of Kempac Polylab Inc. in Montreal, has an Italian-built, twin-head PVC model that so far has only been able to run one head consistently. And in the past, the rear head on twin-head machines could be adjusted only by crawling back into the machine. On the new U.S. Techne models, both heads can now be adjusted using adjustment screws on one side of the head.

Difficulty in obtaining spare parts rankles owners of older Techne machines. The first U.S. agent, Technipack Corp., reportedly discontinued the line shortly after selling the first machines, so parts had to be ordered from Italy, taking up to two or three months. Improved Machinery president Ronald Beaulieu admits that his firm was hindered from servicing older machines by lack of technical information and availability of parts from Italy. Hemisphere Oil Trading Co., a producer of quart HDPE motor-oil bottles in Jabucoa, Puerto Rico; Hicks Oil Co. in DuQuoin, Ill.; and other Techne owners had an informal network of parts swapping to keep their machines running.

Now, Techne says the situation is totally changed. Parts for U.S.-built models are stocked in York. Graham's White says, "That includes all the key parts that drive customers nuts--hydraulics and electrical components." Techne North America has English manuals with U.S. measures and new exploded part drawings for its new machines. Techne says it also has the English version of maintenance manuals for older models, and is "committed to help all old customers by reviewing their parts needs and creating adequate stock of Italian parts." (Some Italian parts have small dimensional differences vs. equivalent U.S. parts). Meanwhile, spare-parts delivery from Italy has improved greatly to about one week, thanks to the addition of a computer for parts orders.

Graham officials say the company has committed the full resources of its engineering organization to Techne's success. A year and a half of preparation for the North American launch involved sending five Graham engineers to Italy for weeks to prepare part drawings for U.S. manufacture. Parker hydraulics were chosen for long wear. Controls, as noted above, are Moog and Barber-Colman MACO 8000. Emerson Electric variable-speed DC drive motors replace European (and reportedly undersized) AC motors; Bosch and Parker pneumatics are used, along with the Graham extruder, which uses Newcastle Industries Comalloy 56 screws and Xaloy barrels in place of previous nitrided steel. (Some of these improvements are being adopted by Technipack Italia, as well.)

The frame is built locally at York Sheet Metal; deflashing tools come from Trail Tool in nearby Glen Rock. Heaters come from Tempco Electric Heater, and temperature controllers (with U.S. warranties) from Fuji Electric. In-frame wiring uses UL-approved components and electrical panel.

EARLY SIGNS OF APPROVAL

Some owners of early Techne models says emphatically they'd never buy another one. But tellingly, C.L. Smith Container Co. in St. Louis, which owns the newest Italian-built Techne in North America, loves his NPE '88 demo model 15000. "Of all my machines it's the best," says plant manager Ed Newby, C.L. Smith, which runs its Techne 24 hours a day, five days a week making gallon HIC containers, also has older Battenfeld Fischer and Hayssen (now Cincinnati Milacron) machines.

Even some competing machine makers give the new U.S. Technes early signs of approval. Claudio Capelli, North American sales manager at competitor Automa Spa, also in Bologna, says, "There's no doubt it's a good machine."

"We've taken the basics of the Techne machine and made a tremendous investment to Americanize them," says Graham president William Donohue. "Jointly, we intend to make this the best shuttle machine in the world."
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Title Annotation:Blow Molding; shuttle blow-molding machines from Graham Engineering Corp.
Author:Schut, Jan H.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Words:1410
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